Honeywell Poised to Begin NanoRacks Experiments

October 14, 2015

A robotic Japanese cargo ship docked with the International Space Station (ISS) on Aug. 24, delivering badly needed supplies and scientific payloads, including one with special significance to Honeywell Aerospace.

The HTV-5 spacecraft also delivered the new NanoRacks External Platform (NREP), which will be attached to the outside of the space station. The NREP will serve as the base for many future flight experiments, which will use the platform on a rotating basis. 

The NREP is part of the ISS National Laboratory operated by the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS). 

“The NREP is exciting because it opens up a new avenue for access to space and scientific experimentation,” said Dr. John Samson, Engineering Fellow at Honeywell Space & Defense in Clearwater, Fla. “Working with Morehead State University and Yosemite Space, Honeywell is flying two of the first flight experiments to be hosted on the NREP.”

One of the flight experiments, the Dependable Multiprocessing 7 (DM7) experiment, which is being done with Morehead State University, is designed to demonstrate that clusters of high performance commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) processors can be used for onboard computing in space. These processors – like those used in high-performance commercial computers – are 10 to 100 times faster than the radiation-hardened software-programmable processors used in space today, which are often several generations behind current commercial hardware.  DM technology was developed by Honeywell for the NASA New Millennium Program (NMP) Space Technology 8 (ST8) project.

“Direct benefits of DM technology include more onboard processing, faster onboard processing, faster sensor-frame processing, increased autonomy, and reduced downlink bandwidth requirements for a given size, weight, power and cost constraint,” Samson said. “Most importantly COTS processors can provide processed data directly to the scientist or end user.”

The DM7 experiment is scheduled for launch in March 2016. It will demonstrate the on-orbit capability of DM technology controlling a cluster of small, lightweight, low-power and low-cost processors manufactured by Gumstix™, a leading producer of extremely small computer-on-module (COM) hardware. Clusters of these palm-sized processors show particular promise for use on the new generation of small satellites – including CubeSat satellites – for which size, weight, power and cost are at a premium.

 “Adding DM-based onboard capability could make remote sensing satellites ‘smart,’” Samson said. “This would enable intelligent on-orbit data mining, intelligent image and data compression, autonomous mission planning, and more effective use of available downlink bandwidth and on-orbit power. The achievement of TRL7 (Technology Readiness Level 7) for DM CubeSat technology will enable a wide variety of future mission applications.”

Prior to the DM7 flight experiment, Honeywell will participate in another DM-related, NREP-hosted flight experiment to perform on-orbit radiation testing of a variety of Gumstix™ COMs. The Gumstix™ experiment, which is being done with Yosemite Space, is scheduled for launch in October. The current Gumstix™ and DM7 ISS flight experiments are funded by grants from CASIS.

Honeywell Aerospace has been on the leading edge of space technology since the very beginning of the space age more than 50 years ago. The company has expertise in a wide range of technologies relating to manned and unmanned space flight, exploration, strategic space flight and satellites.

(Photo courtesy of Airbus Defense and Space)